Medellin/Caracas, Part 2

Post by Steven Dale

Last week I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 2 where I describe the turn-around cable transit caused in the impoverished and dangerous Medellin barrio of Santo Domingo. Image by Steven Dale


A street merchant in Santo Domingo. Image by Steven Dale

Santo Domingo is an isolated barrio in the Colombian city of Medellin. Today it is a place of peace, calm and social progress. Twenty years ago, it was a type of living hell that the developed world can only imagine.

Crime was rampant, poverty high. Homes and businesses along Andalucia Street, the barrio’s main thoroughfare sat vacant. Landlords tried in vain to entice tenants with promises of zero rent, just so long as they paid the taxes and maintenance. They had few takers.

Few in the barrio had private transportation and the only form of public transit were the private bus cartels that infrequently plied the routes. A resident of Santo Domingo could expect to spend 2 – 2 1/2 hours commuting to work in the core each way.

Pablo Escobar, the most violent and successful drug lord the world’s ever seen, would’ve drawn many of his “troops” from this area. Protection money was a constant reality for area merchants and contractors were under the thumb of organized crime. In the ten years after Escobar’s death in 1993, things barely improved. Power abhors a vacuum, after all, and the resulting turf war between gangs trying to establish themselves as the new Escobar only made things worse. Residents wouldn’t leave their homes after dark as the threat of incident wasn’t just possible, it was likely.

Image by Steven Dale.

Police, even, wouldn’t dare to enter Santo Domingo.

Then something curious happened . . .

In the early 2000’s, Metro Medellin (the city’s transit authority) began talking about connecting Santo Domingo to the Metro system via gondola. The idea was laughed off as nothing more than a pipe dream.

Area residents had heard the promises before. Politicians would make their promises to grab the most number of votes and then forget the promises they’d originally made.

Those in government just thought the idea of a ski lift as transit was absurd.

Nevertheless, after four years of community development around the idea (and one potential supplier dropping out due to security concerns), the Colombian and Medellin governments ponied up USD$26 million (a huge sum for those governments) and allowed Metro Medellin to build the world’s first Metrocable.

To say the least, the results were surprising.

Even before the system opened, systemic change was witnessed. Contractors who had grown accustomed to their building supplies being stolen at night experienced no such thing. When such an incident did happen, the locals were more than happy to rat out the perpetrators. For once in their lives, the residents of Santo Domingo saw their government doing something for them rather than to them and Santo Domingo wanted to return the favour.

Within two years, the Metrocable opened and would herald a new era for the residents of Santo Domingo and Medellin in general.

Today, Santo Domingo is a place of relative peace. Andalucia Street is flooded with children, retirees, street merchants and commerce. The Metrocable did what no military, police force or politician could do; it brought the community back to life.

A young couple descends a terraced hill of stairs in Santo Domingo. Image by Steven Dale.

Santo Domingo from above. Image by Steven Dale.

Santo Domingo from below. Image by Steven Dale.

Image by Steven Dale.

A Bancovia branch, 1 of 3 new banks that have opened in Santo Domingo since the Metrocable opened. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable reduced traffic so much that city planners reclaimed 1 lane of traffic and turned it into a pedestrianized lane of traffic. Image by Steven Dale.

Gondolas depart and approach the Acevedo Metro transfer station and the base of Andalucia Street. Image by Steven Dale.

Image by Steven Dale.

For security reasons, police and military are a common sight in the area. Image by Steven Dale.

Santo Domingo. Image by Steven Dale.

Return to Part 1.

Move on to Part 3.

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Analysis / Gondola / History / Medellin MetroCable / Thoughts / Urban Planning & Design
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